A soap opera I’ve never seen, by the way. So you diehard Dark Shadows fans may have all sorts of fun with this movie that just completely passes me by. Or, at least, for your sakes, I hope you do.
Barnabas Collins (Depp) has a gothic castle in late 1700s Maine and a tale of woe to match it. He romanced a maid, Angelique (Eva Green), but when his affections settle on another woman, Josette (Bella Heathcote), he learned Angelique doesn’t take the rejection well. Turns out, she’s a witch with the means to make her pain felt. She kills Barnabas’ parents by smashing them with a gargoyle and bewitches Josette to make her jump off a cliff. Barbabas tries to follow his true love to a watery grave but finds that he can’t die — Angelique has cursed him and made him a vampire.
Not content at simply condemning Barnabas to eternity without his beloved, Angelique rallies the townsfolk to her side and captures Barnabas, burying him in a coffin.
Nearly 200 years later — in 1972 — a McDonald’s construction team inadvertently frees Barnabas (who, unfortunately for them, is hungry). He returns to his family’s castle and finds it and his descendants in a less than regal state. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) is head of the family and lives there with her smartass teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), Roger’s son David (Gulliver McGrath), the therapist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), groundskeeper Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) and recently hired governess Victoria Winters (also Heathcote), who made up her name on the way to the Collins estate. Barnabas is particularly shocked to see her, as she bears a startling resemblance to Josette.
He is also shocked to find out who has taken over control of the area’s fishing industry. Once controlled by the Collins, it is now controlled by Angel Bay — a company whose female head is also familiar. Seems that Angelique didn’t hand out immortality to Barnabas alone.
Some of the Collins (and their housemates) can see ghosts, some towns people die mysteriously, and meanwhile a lot of attention is paid to the revival of the Collins cannery. It’s like All My Children had a baby with Passions — I can understand why this story would work as a gleefully campy soap.
You can like a thing without wanting to see it all the time. You can enjoy, for example, the cartoony-spooky costume, set design and atmospherics of a Tim Burton movie and even the full tilt macabre-fabulous Johnny Depp performance without wanting to see it over and over again. The same exaggerated pale-ness, the same look of inner sadness, the same big-eyed heroine (Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeny Todd, Alice in Wonderland — and even in animation with Corpse Bride). It’s starting to feel like the movies are just excuses to hone The Look, as though they’re live-action catalogs for Coffin & Barrel or Ethan Allen Poe. Dark Shadows is all setting, no story. Or, at least, a very weak story that I couldn’t seem to make myself care about.
That said, there are elements of fun here. Depp is doing a particularly zippy version of That Character. Pfeiffer has big fun with her campy, soapy matriarch. Bonham Carter seems be telling Burton “yes, dear, I’ll be in this one, but make my part even weirder.” She seems to get a kick out of these roles, and I always find myself wishing that her part were bigger. And while it does eventually become tiresome, there are some nice moments where country manor vampire culture of the 1700s clashes with the culture of the 1970s. C
Rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking. Directed by Tim Burton with a screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith (and story by Grahame-Smith and John August), Dark Shadows is an hour and 53 minutes long and is distributed by Warner Brothers.